24
Jan

‘ave a go all you like – there’s no argument over who was the World’s Best Racehorse in 2017

Racing is having an identity crisis. At the Longines Awards, the annual event held by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, an argument which has been simmering along for months boiled over once again.

"...how can a horse whose summer campaign featured three defeats for an aggregate 22 lengths continue to be awarded 'Horse of the Year' titles?"

The answer is straightforward, but is it satisfactory?

First, let's journey back to March 2017.

Arrogate announced himself to the world with a 13 length victory in the Travers Stakes, and upheld that form by being the first horse to overcome California Chrome for nearly two years. There was no question that his 2016 mantle was vindicated.

Arrogate was kept going, winning the Pegasus as California Chrome's career finished with a whimper, and took his place in the 2017 Dubai World Cup at Meydan.

It was a performance that left most wondering where his seat was on the table of all time greats.

"I don't think I'll ever witness a race like it again," said legendary trainer Bob Baffert "That was the single best performance I have ever seen. That was incredible."

The World's Best Racehorse

It was judged by the IFHA to be the best performance since Frankel hung up his hooves and - as the award is given to the horse with the best individual piece of form in the calendar year - he was duly awarded the 2017 award for the World's Best Racehorse.

The irritation and confusion is mostly driven by the terminology. For many, Arrogate was palpably not the 'Horse of the Year', in fact, he wasn't even in the conversation.

So why do the IFHA refuse to change the name to something more accurate, such as, 'Best Individual Performance of 2017'?

Because this is how racing works.

Racing is a game of pounds, ounces, inches and stopwatches. Fans are obsessed with quantifying quality of form, and pontificating upcoming, or past & future mythical contests. It's the essence of the sport to wonder who would win.

To do this, all sorts of ratings are compiled. Practical, day to day, ratings will quickly adapt and move with a horse's current ability. But when reflecting on a career, racing will - commendably - honour the horses's high water mark, rather than a moving average.

You don't judge a career by how it finished, you judge it by how high it peaked.

In the same way, when considering a yearly award, it's right that only the peak performances are considered.

On the 25th of March 2017, Arrogate ran to a level of form which no other horse could match over the entire twelve months, and he thoroughly deserves to be crowned the world's best racehorse of 2017.

'Horse of the Year'

There is a more practical, and potentially cynical, reason why the IFHA refuse to rename their flagship award. (They're clearly not adverse to change as they introduced a completely new award in 2015, to honour the year's best race).

Crowning Arrogate with 'Best Individual Performance' of 2017 would create a vacuum. It begs the question, 'well, who was the best horse of 2017?'.

The suspicion is that quantifying such a subjective argument is simply too hard. They have an index for Jockeys, but this seems to have too much emphasis on consistency, and almost all top horses are campaigned incredibly sparingly.

It's this last fact that creates the discontentment with the award. In Australia, Winx has sledgehammered her way in to the hearts and minds of the population with a crushing 22 race winning sequence.

The public warms to consistency, it's why most UK racing fans still rank Enable over Cracksman even if the handicappers don't agree. (just don't get me started on Battaash)

They also warm to versatility. Personally, Enable would just edge out Winx on my 'Horse of the Year' award. She improved consistently through the season, taking five G1s in three countries, winning the biggest races against colts in devastating style, but what I love the most is the fact she never raced on the same course twice.

Winx ran over a variety of distances, going - and had some spectacular moments after acquiring a habit for missing the break - but rarely ventured outside of metropolitan Sydney.

“You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

Winx doesn't need to travel to prove herself to be the best racehorse in the world, but it will always be held against her if she doesn't.

After all, her best race of the 2017, ironically - also back in March, was good enough to retain her crown as highest rated turf horse (ahead of Cracksman, Enable..).


Simon Rowlands wrote a fascinating piece for Timeform about this very subject - which as fun as it was to read and imagine the contest - only really proved how difficult the exercise is.

Racing is a sport which creates fierce debate, and this is an annual dialogue that we should take great pleasure in. After all, it's an excuse to relive all the highlights of the season just gone.

But to argue that the IFHA need to change their awards is unnecessary.

If you're in any doubt, just scroll up and hit play again.

~ George